Arts and Culture

December 28-”Move over David Beckham” by Samia Rahman

SamiYusuf1.jpg sAMI YUSUF 2 image by ambhita_bucket

With fresh-faced good looks and an air of self-possession, he seems the epitome of cool. A household name across Egypt and the Middle East, he is literally everywhere. Take a walk through the bustling streets of downtown Cairo and you are guaranteed to hear his name in the casual conversation of passersby. He smiles down from billboards and television screens. Newspapers and magazines track his every movement on their front pages. He is the face of Vodafone in the region and has a clean-cut image of wholesome family values to rival anything David Beckham ever had to offer. And what’s more, he’s British.

Singer Sami Yusuf, 25, has captured the imagination of the Middle East with his brand of nasheeds (Islamic songs) which he describes as “a blend of eastern and western modes”. Born and brought up in the UK, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, he travelled to Cairo two years ago with a group of childhood friends from London who run the Muslim media company, Awakening. Promoting Islam through literature, arts and music, the collective also produced the first ever Muslim comedy CD. “Our aim was to learn Arabic,” explains Yusuf of his relocation, “and we chose Cairo because it is the internationally recognised source for Islamic knowledge and learning. It’s also the music capital of the Arab world.”

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September 2,”Oh Samosa” by Usman Tufail

Ohhhh Samosa, how I love you samosa,
There you lie on the plate I just want you closer,
How crispy and delicate your pastry shell,
Pass the sauce, pass the dip, pass the chutney as well.

Ohhh Samosa not for me those funny pakoras,
Weird looking and jagged those savoury horrors,
with my appetite daily I wrestle and wrangle,
For you… my beloved pastry triangle.

Ohhh Samosa, to the “healthies” pay no heed,
So what if you’re fried, you’re just what I need,
A long day’s fasting is no better broken,

Than a delicious samosa just cooked and smokin!

September 2-”Response by Pakora” by Usman Tufail

Dear Sir I approach you with indignation,
As a pakora dear sir, in protestation,
To a savoury snack lover, please bear in mind,
Your harsh words and slander, were most unkind.

A samosa we admit is a snack geometric,
But just try a pakora, and taste the electric,
Jagged and Horrid, Sir take that back,
For we are the Jackson Pollack, in the world of the snack.

Now you may see us, as a snack to abhor,
But look upon us dear sir, rather as a metaphor,
Of the world undecided, of destiny untold,
Never knowing once fried, what shape you’ll behold.

Reconsider and try, the snack of which you grumbled,
Take a pakora, dip in chutnee,
And I’m sure you’ll be humbled.

September 4-”Muslims Who Saved The Jews:The Untold Story” by Shahzada Irfan

When no other European country dared to withstand the wrath of Nazi Germany, it was the Muslims of Albania who saved a large number of Jewish people from extermination.

Albania, a Muslim majority country in Europe, opened its borders during World War II and took in thousands of Jews fleeing from different countries. They were treated like honored guests, and many were given fake names and even passports.

This little-known chapter of history is the focus of the photographic exhibition Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust , which kicked off in July at the Holocaust Museum Houston and continues through February.

The exhibition displays photographs taken by Norman Gershman, a Jewish photographer based in Colorado, who traveled to Albania in 2003 to research the topic.

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M.J.  You take my breath away

by Shelina Merani, June 26, 2009

MichaelMy dearest mum has congestive heart failure. One of the side effects is shortness of breath.

When I see her going through these excruciating episodes, it reminds me of my own challenges with breathing.

It all started the day that my family and I were sitting around the TV watching the 25th Anniversary of Motown. I was 13 and not prepared for what I would see next.

Michael Jackson came on the stage singing Billie Jean. He was mesmerizing. It was the first time in my life that I would experience the sensation of losing my breath.

Michael Jackson came on the stage singing Billie Jean. He was mesmerizing. It was the first time in my life that I would experience the sensation of losing my breath.

That moment changed me forever. It was the start of what I would experience many times over the course of my life-a feeling of total other worldliness when being deeply inspired, of feeling the presence of my creator.

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June 19-”Fatherhood in Islam” by Tariq Ramadan

fatherhoodIt is important for Muslims to have a discussion about fatherhood while keeping in mind the ever-fragile state of Muslim families. We need to re-assess the language we use and the ontological assumptions we make when we speak about the role of the father because often, the problem doesn’t just lie with the crisis but the way we deal with it.

Muslims naturally feel inclined to place the mother at the centre of the process of raising children, unwittingly ignoring the father’s role. Islamic tradition does stress the role of the mother. For example, when asked who a Muslim should love most, the Prophet Muhammad said, “Your mother, your mother, your mother and then your father.” It is also said that paradise lies at the feet of the mother. As a result, we tend to focus on the father as an individual, not as someone who should and can play a central role within his family.

When we assess issues from an Islamic perspective, we categorise everything according to “rights” and “duties”. We speak of the rights of the man, the rights of the woman, the duties of the man, the duties of the woman. This mentality is dangerous. It reduces issues to black and white, right and wrong absolutes. This approach is more prevalent than we realise. We must take from all the human sciences that can deal with family problems.

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February 18 – “Che Guevara – an Islamic inspiration?” by Aicha Lasfar

Muslim Presence

1951885060_088facf27f1In a twisted way, I think Che’s death was the best death he could’ve had. He died heroicly at the tender age of 39 and never had to face a midlife crisis.

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Lynch de la Serna died standing up, saying to his executioner, “Shoot, coward. You’re only killing a man.” It’s almost as though he knew that his dream would never die and that his legacy would live on much longer than he had.

42 years after his death, Che’s portrait is the most famous photograph in the history of photography. You will find Che’s face on watches, swimwear, baby wear, vodka bottles, designer purses and of course t-shirts amongst many other things. You’ll even find it tattoo-ed on a few people’s body parts.
I actually do own a Che t-shirt but I often ask myself whether or not I should wear it in public. Many young people who wear the t-shirt don’t even have a clue who Ernesto Guevara was. To proove my point, I remember seeing a guy on the bus who wore a t-shirt with Che’s iconic portrait on it with the words ‘I have no idea who this guy was.’

I can’t help but think, “What would Ernesto think of all this?” Gael Garcia Bernal who portrayed Che in the movie ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ thinks he would find it quite funny. On the other hand, Ernesto’s eldest daughter Aleida Guevara thinks it’s an insult to his memory as he fought against capitalism, the very socio-economic system which is exploiting his image today.
Che’s face was always a symbol of rebellion against injustice but lately it’s more like a symbol of rebellion against the establishment, what ever it might be.

As a Muslim youth, I take the good and leave the bad when it comes to Che. He unfortunately did not believe in God and he smoked an incredible amount of cigars, yet I know more about Che than I should. Regrettably, I know more about Che than I know about several prophets and messengers of Allah. I know more about Che than I know about Omar Mukhtar or Salahudeen. Why is that? Am I just another rebellious youth who follows the trends? I see a parallel between the ironic capitalist exploitation of Che’s image and my rebellion of the trend I am following by being a rebel. Confused? Me too.

But I didn’t purchase this t-shirt because everyone else does….Or did I? I like to think that I wear the shirt because I love the man on it. The more I read through his memoirs, the more I fall in love with the man who died 24 years before I was born because of his ideals, his deep philosophical thoughts, his sincerity, his courage and his way of looking at the world with that challenging glare that stares back at me from many unlikely surfaces. On the other hand, why am I not learning about and falling in love with the freedom fighters of the Islamic cause? Is it because I can’t find a t-shirt with their picture on it?

What does it say when a hijabi wears the Che shirt anyway? ‘I am Muslim and I support Che” ? ” I am a Muslim and I rebel against the status quo” ? “I am Muslim and I am communist” ?

The truth is, I have no idea. I’m just writing for the sake of writing . It’s like sketching a blueprint for an intricate contraption that is to become me as I grow older and as I acquire the skills to make something of these doubt filled reflections. It just helps sometimes to splatter the paint of your thoughts on a white sheet; you see them more clearly that way.

Aicha Lasfar is a thinker, artist and youth member of the Muslim Presence network.

February 17 – “Passion with Purpose” by Hodan Ibrahim

Muslim Presence

aOk. I’ve ruled out the possibility of ever living up to the status quo. Why? Simply because I will never be able to live up to it and I frankly don’t care. What do I want to do? Be a journalist and filmmaker. Compared to the professional careers my friends are pursuing in political science, nursing, etc., it is highly untraditional for a Muslim Canadian with a Somali background.

But I love creativity! I love where it can take you, who you can meet, and the power of making statements that can resound with all people.

In the Muslim community, highly favorable professions are definitely not in the arts. I can go as far as to say that there are stigmas attached to those who pursue artistic careers. Their professions are not considered “real jobs”. Most college or university graduates study academic subjects, such as mathematics, engineering, science. There is nothing wrong with these subjects. They’ve led to noble discoveries and inventions that have helped humanity progress financially as well. The issue arises when the enthusiasm of those that are brilliant in the arts is suppressed and they are dissuadedfrom pursuing an artistic career.

Britishborn creative expert, Sir Ken Robinson, says that “intelligence is diverse and dynamic.” There is no one kind of intelligence. Why are kids who are artistically inclined discouraged from pursuing careers in the arts? Is it because they won’t make money or get the best job?

“We are educating people out of their creativity,” Sir Robinson says.

If we were to allow our children to pursue artistic careers, where would that lead them? To answer this question, we need to understand the status that art holds within our community.

I would suggest that at present, creativity isn’t really valued because it is rarely needed to solve problems in our current cultural and social situation. When the time comes when creativity and ingenuity are needed to solve social issues, then only will they become valuable.

Malcolm X stated that ‘the future belongs to those who prepare for it today’. We can’t be as oblivious as we are to solving future issues.

Art forms are embedded in cultures around the world, whether in music, dance, literature, architecture and artifacts. The countries in which we live enable us to seek and grab opportunities that lay before us. If one has enough passion and determination, he or she can achieve their dreams, with the help of Allah.

One person who has been building bridges of understanding using art is Mohammed Ali, also known as ‘Aerosol Arabic’. His fusion of urban graffiti art with Islam is a way of expressing his spirituality. His work uncovers and tackles issues in our current social reality.
Taking an art form that is often associated with gangs and vandalism, he was able to turn it into a great catalyst for communication between Muslims and nonMuslims in his community.

Are we holding on to security, in the hopes of stability, while missing great opportunities for social transformation? We are simply settling for a more stable life because it is easier. So then, how are we ever to revive the Ummah with the talents and unique abilities of people when we suppress the abilities that we feel aren’t ‘honorable’.

With every great nation, every great person, there come admirers and followers. If we indoctrinate our young people to follow a certain way, rather than encourage them in the direction of their full potential, do you believe the Ummah will be revived?

It most certainly will stay the same until we learn to tolerate new ideas and stop this narrow-minded approach where we tell our youth to be a certain way, rather than allow them to be who they are. For many young artists,this would mean being allowed to be both Muslims and artists at the same time: to respect and further Muslim values, while exploring creativity and artistic expression as legitimate professions. We need to have the courage to let go of what’s familiar and take a risk. When we couple passion with purpose and inspiration, we will see amazing results.

Hodan Ibrahim is a writer, artist and university student in Ottawa

January 9 – “The Spiritual Journey” by Aicha Lasfar

Lessons learned from Professor Tariq Ramadan’s lecture at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention (RIS), Toronto 2008

2529054047_6e4206c666Bismillah alRahmaan alRaheem

I consider myself very blessed to have been able to attend the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention in Toronto this year. I truly consider myself a changed individual and I am obliged to thank all the Sheikhs and Scholars who came to share their profound knowledge with us.

Of all the lectures I attended, I found Professor Tariq Ramadan’s to be one of the most rigorous and inspirational. Not only were his words laden with wisdom, but you could sense his enthusiasm when he asked us not to clap because, ‘we don’t have time.’

He had simply too much important information to share with us to be interrupted by our signs of approval but I could not help myself from clapping at times because his words rang so true for me.

Professor Ramadan reminded us of many important issues that each and every Muslim, North-American or not, deals with on a daily basis. He reminded us that to be a sincere Muslim we need to first look within ourselves and within our hearts before being able to fully absorb any Islamic wisdom.

“Knowledge of yourself is the heart of Islam. You need to know yourself in order to change and strengthen yourself and, in turn, your iman and deen,” he said.

Professor Ramadan talked about the subject of freedom and what it really means. In today’s society, the word ‘freedom’ is often used to define the mentality of doing what you want, how you want, and when you want. But according to Dr. Ramadan, ‘freedom’ involves asking yourself what you want by not blindly following trends that society has put forth.
“The most dangerous prison, [he said] is the one [where] … you can’t see the bars. You don’t think it’s there but it could be in your heart.”

Professor Ramadan urged us to eliminate any potential idols that we tend to look up to in our daily lives. Just as the Prophet destroyed the idols in the Ka’abah, we need to destroy the idols in our own personal bayt’ullahs – our hearts. In order to eliminate these idols, he recommended that we constantly analyze our intention, our objective, and our means whenever doing any action.

In his lecture, Professor Ramadan stressed the importance of spirituality and the remembrance of Allah. Spirituality needs discipline and constant training of the nafs (ego). Just like an athlete, we need to strengthen our souls by working diligently in a step by step procedure, and just like an athlete, we tend to forget a training session. He stated the importance of acknowledging our forgetfulness:

“Denying one’s forgetfulness is the fastest way to arrogance. You have to admit that you can forget and that you have forgotten.”
He also reminded us that forgetfulness can have great consequences:
“By forgetting the Qur’an, you will forget Allah and, in turn, forget and lose yourself.”

Professor Ramadan used a beautiful metaphor to show us how spirituality is linked to religion. He said:
“Religion is the house and structure, but spirituality is its welcoming perfume and atmosphere.”

Apart from reminding us of the importance of spirituality, Professor Ramadan lectured about the duties of Muslims living in the West.

To help us remember, he established the four L’s:
• Law – respect the law of your country;
• Language – know the language of your country;
• Loyalty – be loyal to your principles;
• Liberty – know your rights.

He also established the six C’s:
• Confidence in your principles;
• Consistence in your actions;
• Contribution to your community;
• Creativity;
• Communication with your community; and
• Contestation – we must abide by our Islamic principles.

He said:
“We are not here to please the people. By pleasing Allah, we will please the people.”

Professor Ramadan’s lecture contained these and many more words of invaluable insight that can not be done justice in a short article such as this; and that is why I would encourage and urge everyone to attend next year’s convention.

This year’s conference was mostly about change and I think  Professor Ramadan is an agent of change who can inspire all of us to do more, if we take the time to absorb his message which he conveys so poignantly and eloquently.

May Allah Bless all the people who made the R.I.S 2008 Convention a success. Ameen.

Aicha Lasfar is a thinker, artist and youth member of the Muslim Presence Network

*Image by Neville Longmore entitled Deep Calling Deep, published under the Creative Commons license.

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